From the moment I started to test this game (the review code I received didn’t allow for an install), my thoughts were hardly favourable. This is familiar RTS territory – but from what apparently seems to be at least ten years ago! Everyone is aware how much games have developed over the last decade and to me there seems no excuse to release such a dated-looking title, into a market that is burgeoning with slick, glossy and beautifully designed games. Even the first editions of popular RTS games were head and shoulders graphics-wise over this.
The Dark Legions is supposed to be a medieval/fantasy type scenario, and so it is, just like dozens of other titles in this genre.
It starts off in the usual manner – you have your villagers gather resources to erect the buildings you need to create an army. There is nothing remotely new or exciting here. The appearance of the game is primitive, so you can hardly sit back and admire the landscape while the blocky sprites scuttle about cutting down trees and mining ore etc. In a spirit of generosity, and to try and get a feel for the game, I began to play the tutorial. There were hardly unsurprising objectives, such as build a Barracks and then create a number of fighters. It was exactly the same as the original Age of Empires only without the polished appearance. If you’re going to emulate the tried and tested formula at least have a new and unusual setting, surely? To me it just seems lazy to have yet another Medieval type background. You might as well just go back to play the original AoE, which has far more going for it. I found myself wondering why any game developer would want to visit such over-farmed and well trodden ground again. And why would anyone spend good money on this when there are far more interesting and graphically pleasing titles available? But, despite my gripes, I persisted with TDL for the sake of a fair review. Unfortunately, when I tried to go back into the tutorial, I was unable to for some reason, so had to play a ‘random game’.
So, let’s look at the positive aspects. This isn’t a hard game to pick up, which has to be one thing in TDL’s favour. Despite the lack of tutorial training, I found it easy to get into the swing of things – mainly because I’m so familiar with AoE, which this so resembles, in a cut down kind of way. The interface is fairly self explanatory – and familiar – so you don’t have to waste a lot of time working out how to actually direct your units or make the best of your buildings. If you’ve played other RTS games, your learning curve with TDL will be swift and effortless. Resources are plentiful, so it’s not a chore to expand your community and start creating those essential troops.
I started creating buildings in the order in which I’d created them for other games that ensured the community developed efficiently alongside a functional army. This is the usual blacksmith, barracks, monastery etc scenario. Technologies can be researched in the buildings, and units created. If you want cavalry, you have to research horse riding and so on. As in AoE, you ‘build’ your villagers, or slaves as they are known in this game, within the keep. These slaves can then be directed to create the buildings you want or to gather resources. You have to keep building houses to accommodate the expanding community. You can build protective walls, defensive towers and also upgrade your keep to have better defence and be more efficient. You develop industrial technologies to improve the performance of your workers within the keep also. Do you have a feeling of déjŕ vu yet?
Things do get slightly more interesting once you’ve developed the capability to build a dock and therefore ships. The random game I played had my community situated on an island, so the only way to travel and to attack belligerent neighbours before they attacked me was to build ships. It seems that a great part of the game centres around maritime warfare. But even so there wasn’t enough for me to get hooked and to really care about developing my fleet. I played the game for the sake of the review, and wasn’t entranced or drawn in enough to spend hours if not days glued to the computer, as has happened with so many other titles I’ve reviewed before. I really think that even a game that is fairly primitive in appearance can be a winner if the game play is addictive and has something different to offer in terms of background or story, races/creatures involved, or the way communities and armies are developed and deployed. TDL fails on all these counts, at least for me. The AI seemed a bit stupid as well, and it wasn’t easy to control the units.
If you are an obsessive compulsive purchaser of every RTS title going, then you might spend a few hours experimenting with this latest offering, but really I think even the most die hard fan of the genre will find little to inspire them here. TDL is clearly based upon far more sophisticated games but lacks their fine detail and finesse. When you think about the amount of work that goes into developing any new title, it seems such a waste so much energy has been invested in something that offers so little in terms of innovation or excitement. I'm still mystified as to why this has been released!